Monday, December 22, 2014

Just Monkeying Around: Newsletters So Easy ANY Monkey Can Do It!

Okay, here's the deal.

I love visualizing what my newsletter will look like.

I love having done a newsletter.

But mostly I don't like creating a newsletter. That's because it takes a lot of work to make it pretty and eye-catching. And deciding what to put in a newsletter is a pain. No wait...deciding what to leave OUT is the hard part.

Personally, a newsletter needs the following five things to catch my attention.

1) It needs to reflect the personal style or the brand of the sender
2) It needs to point people to the product (i.e. our books)
3) It needs to be short and simple
4) It needs to be visually appealing
5) It needs to be easy

The first three items on the list (personal style, product and short) are easy enough to achieve. And for some of us, if you like longer newsletters, that's okay. But people are busy, and I don't want to bore them with too much in a newsletter.

Way back before newsletter software like ConstantContact, MailChimp, and SendBlaster, I attempted to send newsletters via email. It was really hard to design something attractive quickly and easily and dump it into an email program and it would come out on the other end looking like a newsletter. It generally looked like what it was ... an email.

So, when I made the jump to MailChimp (newsletter software providor) last year, I thought all my problems were solved. I thought I'd have a gorgeous newsletter with great photos and content, and it would meet my most pressing needs: visually appealing and easy to create.

Even though MailChimp seemed to have all the bells and whistles I needed, the results felt bland...cookie cutter...and I felt like I was coloring within the lines. And it still took hours to create something that even when I was done, I just wasn't satisfied with how my newsletter looked.

After studying a couple of my favorite newsletters, I had an aha moment, and my latest newsletter was fairly quick and easy compared to previous ones. And I loved how it turned out.

The Key....

All the prep work was done BEFORE I opened my newsletter software. Yes, that's right. Instead of dumping a few pictures and book covers into MailChimp and writing content in the newsletter software around the pictures, I created my entire newsletter in PicMonkey in FOUR images (or sections), then uploaded the images to MailChimp. I linked the images to wherever I wanted each to go, and after checking things for accuracy, I was done with my newsletter.

Quickly, for those who might not know what it is, PicMonkey is a free online graphics design program. There are other more advanced programs, but PicMonkey does the job for me. I've blogged about PicMonkey before so for a quick tutorial on how to use PicMonkey to your advantage, check out Memes, Monkeys, and Me. The learning curve is not that steep and for me, I can visualize what I want a lot quicker than in MailChimp, and I have a lot more control over my layout, backgrounds, fonts, and style.

Now, here comes the fun part, some photos and instructions to explain all this. :)

I wanted the top of my newsletter to look like a 2:1 column, and I will probably stick with the same basic layout for a while. So, visualizing that, I started with my website header at the top and some cute borders and boxes for my content. Here's a template I created in PicMonkey. By saving the template, I'm already ahead of the game for the next newsletter. Or, I can create another template if I want to change things up. But I still need to stay on brand by using this color scheme, especially my header.

See the texture in the background templates in the empty text boxes? I worked up that parchment look in PicMonkey about a year ago and I've used it over and over again. That's not a background look I could get if I tried to design this directly in MailChimp.

Part A: Newsletter Template for Header Section
990x773 px
Now, this next part is what takes my newsletter from blah to wow. Or at least wow to me! :)

Think about any newsletter software you've ever worked with. Anything and everything in any given column or "block" is SEPARATE and contained, correct? In addition, the above layout isn't really even an option in MailChimp that I know of. You can do 1 column, 2 column, 2:1, 1:2, 3 column, etc, but not a combination like I've done above. That's because even though the layout above looks like three parts, it's not. It's one photo/jpg/image.

Below, you see the result of Part A of my December newsletter using the template above. Again, I wanted simple but gorgeous, with just a bit of content for the readers. I didn't want to bombard them with too much information, especially during Christmas. So, ignore the prettiness :) for a moment, and let's look at the content of this section...

Part A: Final Newsletter Header for December 2014 Newsletter
990x773 px
My newsletter header matches the header on my website, so that keeps my brand consistent. I incorporated a cute picture from my own Christmas decorations (didn't hurt that the colors were very complimentary!) and a short Christmas message. Then on the right, I gave thumbnail sketches of what I would be doing in December, January, and February.

Next, notice my name and the gold/tan swirls? Since this is all ONE image, I can "tie" what looks like three blocks of images/text together because I'm creating it all in my design software as one image. I originally planned to use a Christmas wreath, but ended up with the signature and the garnish. Finally, when I uploaded the above image to MailChimp, I linked it to my website. So, when subscribers received this newsletter, they could click anywhere on the above image to go directly to my website.

Again, remember I wanted to keep the newsletter simple, so now that I've wished my readers a Merry Christmas and told them what I'll be up to in the next couple of months, I wanted to tell them about my current release. Well, I could use the same 2:1 column layout, or I could use a square, but instead, I thought a banner style block would catch the eye more...

Part B: Announcement of Current Release
990x300 px
I used the same color scheme for this section to keep the flow, but as a long, narrow banner. I used the gold and tan background image, flipped it on its edge in PicMonkey, added The Evergreen Bride cover, and worked a bit of magic with the snow globe :) and this was the result. Notice how the cover bleeds out of the square just a bit, and the snow beneath the snow globe falls out of the image? Those were my attempts to give the newsletter more personality and less of a cookie-cutter feel. Since The Evergreen Bride was an ebook only, the link for this banner ad sent readers to Amazon. On various newsletter campaigns, I'll rotate links to CBD, B&N, Lifeway, etc. to spread the love just a bit.

Next, I wanted to give readers a sneak peak at what's coming up in 2015, but I wanted the visual to be different, so I chose a 2 column layout with two pictures side-by-side. But what else to put with the 2015 releases? I had blogged about my family's Burlap and Bows Country Christmas last year, so I decided that would be perfect for the Christmas newsletter. And I already had a postcard-sized image with the covers for 2015, all I had to do was resize it and pop it in.
Part C: December 2014 Newsletter
500x386 px

Part D: December 2014 Newsletter
300x332 px
Now, I could have combined Parts B, C, and D into one huge image, but I needed them to be separate so that I could add the links that I wanted. Because you can only add one link to an image/jpg.

So, to recap. I ended up with FOUR jpgs (images) in my newsletter. The entire newsletter was made up of images, not text. I linked each image to a specific spot on the web.

Part A linked to my home page on my website.
Part B linked to The Evergreen Bride on Amazon.
Part C linked to the Burlap and Bows Country Christmas. (the most clicked on link, btw)
Part D linked to my Books page on my website.

For those who are interested, I included the pixels in the captions above on each picture. You'll notice that the width across of both A & B are 990 px. That was about the right length to fit well with MailChimp.

As always, there are pros and cons to anything. Pros for doing a newsletter on this format is that you have more control of the visual appeal of your newsletter. Maybe that's not that important to my readers, but I personally like a pretty newsletter. I hope my readers do, too. And from the open and click-through rate, I think I'm on the right track. :)

One con is that you can only link ONCE to each image you upload. But, even though I didn't add any simple text in MailChimp, I could have, and I could have had links all over the text if needed. Another con would be that since you're typing your text directly onto your pictures and saving them, if you make a mistake, then you'll have to go back to your graphics design software to fix your jpg, then re-upload your graphics.

Here's a small screenshot of the finished product, but to see the REAL thing with the links, click here to see Pam Hillman's December 2014 newsletter. And, I'd love for you to Subscribe to Pam's Newsletter in order to receive future newsletters. Who knows what tricks I'll have up my monkey-sleeve next month? :)

Screenshot of Pam's December 2014 Newsletter

A couple of things I didn't mention before. I intentionally left a small white border around my graphics for extra eye-appeal, and then added the deep red background in MailChimp along with the narrow tool lines separating the sections.

So, there you have it. Newsletters so easy this monkey can do it! I hope today's post jumpstarts your creativity and ideas for a newsletter that reflects your personality and the image you want to present to your readers. Feel free to ask questions and I'll do my best to explain or clarify.

God bless and Merry Christmas!! :)


  1. This is very cool. When I got your newsletter earlier, I was actually thinking, "How in the world does she get that layout? Wish I knew how to do that..." LOL

    I just discovered PicMonkey and Canva. Oh, I love Canva. Great for backgrounds and titles and headers and such. I'm still learning PicMonkey, but it looks super fun. Love this post! Thanks so much for showing us how!

  2. I sounds so interesting. Also Canva. Can PicMonkey and Canva (to Natilie Monk) be used to create a blog background too?

    Smiles & Blessings,
    Cindy W.

  3. You make it sound doable. I paid for a year of newsletters and never did them, simply because it was too overwhelming.

    Thank you, thank you, thank you.

  4. We must always listen to Pam. I joined the paid version of Pic Monkey a year ago. LIFE SAVER.

    Do you do a paid version of Mail Chimp?

  5. Hi Pam! Thanks for the great explanation. Your newsletter is both beautiful and informative. This is definitely a keeper post!

    I hope you have a great Christmas!

  6. Awesome! Love the look, Pam, and LOVE PicMonkey. I haven't worked up the courage to attempt a newsletter yet, but after reading this, I'm game! Bookmarking these instructions, and thank you for sharing. Merry Christmas!

  7. You are a genius with PicMonkey, Pam. Racing out to visit a friend in a nursing home. I'll be back later to study everything you've provided for us today. Perhaps producing a newsletter should be on my New Year's resolution list!

    Hugs and Christmas love to all!

  8. Good morning all! Coffee is perking, biscuits are baking, bacon sizzling and the eggs almost ready. It's a country side-board this morning, so dig in!!! :)

    Natalie, I knew this little technique was too good to keep to myself! :) You've got to try it. I wonder who we inherited our graphic design bent from? Just think if great-great-grandpa Dickerson had had a computer and graphic design software, no telling what he could do. Oh, and come to think of it, my grandmother on that side of the family was very artistic in her own way. She liked to remodel her house. She single-handed moved all the walls in the house at one time or another. Mama said Papaw would come home from peddling vegetables and one of the walls would be moved. lol

    And, I haven't heard of Canva. Must look into it!

  9. Pam, I like pretty newsletters, too! And yours is certainly pretty. ;-)

    Thanks for the tips on creating a custom designed newsletter. Very nice...

  10. Cindy, hopefully, someone can tell us more about Canva. I just looked at it, and the home page is the COOLEST thing ever! Just scroll around with your mouse.

    It says "Amazingly simple graphic design for blogs" so I would say yes to your question although I've never used it at all.

    Maybe Natalie will jump in here and tell us more about Canva, but it sounds like a great program. I need to sign up and check it out.

  11. Tina, you're right. I think I had SendBlaster once (maybe the free version) and I might have used it once or twice. Or probably not ever. I just couldn't figure it out.

    And MailChimp has its quirks, but for someone who doesn't spend a lot of time in the program, it can be frustrating to jump in and get it done quickly the traditional way. I like my way better. lol

    I don't have the paid version of MailChimp, because I don't have over 2000 subscribers. But I just looked at the options. Glad you mentioned that because at some point (hopefully), my list will grow to the point that I'll need to make a decision.

  12. Thank you, Jackie. Hope you have a very Merry Christmas as well. I'm going to be wrapping presents today...

    Or, rather, I'm going to see how many bags and boxes I have on hand. I might have to make run to Dollar General and grab some bags. I've threatened buying an entire roll of brown wrapping paper. It makes wonderful simplistic old-fashioned wrapping paper. Have some big Christmas shaped sponges on hand and some red and green paint and you've got the cutest (and cheapest) wrapping paper around.

    Or just toss everything under the tree and let 'em have at it.

  13. You're welcome, Dora! Let us know how your newsletter turns out. Merry Christmas!

  14. Drive safely, Debby! We'll have hot chocolate, coffee or tea for you on your return. Enjoy your visit with your friend.

  15. Mary H, in some ways I'm not a house attests to that, but on paper, my graphics design bent does show up.

    I was one of the people who thought it would be cool to put confetti in submissions to editors! lol Just kiddin'

    Yes, custom designed is a good way to describe this newsletter, isn't it? Good choice of words. :)

  16. Once again, I'm more than impressed! I might have to make a newsletter, err, join or get Picmonkey....write and send to my friends on Seekerville, at least. After im done my TBR pile. Thanks, Pam and I loved your newsletter

  17. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

    I've been using Picmonkey ever since you told us about it on your earlier post, and I love it.

    I thought I used it for everything - until today! I hadn't even thought of using it for a newsletter. :)

    But I have a question - I'd like to be able to send a newsletter through snail mail. I know that's old school, but I'd like to reach potential readers who don't use computers.

    And yes, there really are such people. Amish, for one. My mother-in-law, for another :)

    So, can you print your newsletter out once you have it done?

  18. lol, Marianne, that's the spirit! Even though I haven't utilized it yet, MailChimp lets you create groups, so as you develop your newsletter list and want to practice, you could have a few folks who are your guinea pigs. :)

  19. My head is spinning and I'm uber impressed that you figured all this out. LOVE PicMonkey -- thank you for introducing me to it here on Seekerville. Haven't gotten very adventurous with it though. I tend to stick with the basics. But it's still fun.

  20. Pam, that is absolutely gorgeous! But my head started spinning once you got down to the cute swirly signature! :)

    I do use PicMonkey, but I think these are advanced features. :) BUT I love your finished product and may have to learn to do this next year. I'm sure I'll be hollering to ask you to help me. :)

  21. I love your newsletters, Pam. They are a treat to the eye. I have never touched PicMonkey or a lot of other "free" online graphics software simply because I have the software I use for my work. (Mary C's bane: Photoshop)

    It is neat to see how you've come up with a really great way to create a wonderful looking newsletter that truly reflects you and your books. Thanks for sharing how you did it. I love seeing how other creative minds work.

  22. Hahaha, just read Kav's comment. Her head is spinning too. :)

  23. Jan, of course!

    However, if I was going to mail it, I wouldn't bother with MailChimp. I'd just create my jpgs and then place them on the newsletter...maybe in Word, or something.

    I'd also decide ahead of time how many pages I wanted, if I wanted to fold it in half or in thirds, and plan my content accordingly. I'd also leave room on the outside for my return address and the mailing address.

    PS... I used to print the FHL's paper newsletter many years ago. It was about 8 pages long and I think I did it on 11x17. Okay, that was a long, long time ago, so I'm not going to go back to look. I'm not even sure if I have any print copies left. Probably do in my design folders, buried under a mountain of boxes and paper in my office. You don't want to see my office right now. I think it would give a hoarder a run for his/her money!

  24. Nice, Pam! Your newsletter is beautiful! Love the colors.

    I got all of my wrapping done yesterday!! Although, my motto this year was, 'If it doesn't fit in a gift bag I ain't buying it.'
    I pretty much kept to it so I didn't have many to wrap. :p

  25. Oh, no.... Kav and Missy have spinning heads. I think I did that to somebody last time! lol

    You know, here's the thing about this method of creating newsletters...

    If you enjoy playing with graphics software and have a knack for it, then it's an easy jump to the next step of using that skill for a newsletter.

    If you don't enjoy using Photoshop, PicMonkey, or __________ (fill in the blank) software to play with pictures and words, then it's going to feel like work...a LOT of work...

    Creating a newsletter the OTHER way felt like work to me. This way was fun. :)

  26. DebH, I imagine there are lots of cool techniques that you could use with Photoshop to create graphics for a newsletter as well.

    I'd probably buy it if I needed the extra bells and whistles for layering and big projects.

    But Natalie has already got me itching to try out Canva... like I have TIME for that!!! :(

    Must take a break and see about wrapping some presents soon.

  27. Donna, as I read your comment, I started thinking.... hmmmm, will everything I bought fit in a bag?

    I sure hope so!!

  28. Hi Cindy W! Hi, Pam! :)

    Fellow Seekervillager and unofficially official crit partner Courtney Phillips told me about Canva. ;)

    Canva is a drag & drop design program for those who love the prettiness of designing things, but don't want to spend too much time collecting free graphics and photos from across the internet. If you want to explore, I recommend looking through the tab on the left that says "Search" and click the little buttons that come up. I love the ready-made text templates. You can change the color and font of most things.

    It's great for graphics with quotes of your books or a giveaway image you want to Pin on Pinterest or post on Facebook. They also have some images you can buy for a one-time use for $1. You can also upload your own photos for free, put them in canva-made frames and add text (in a TON of different fonts). In short, Canva is easy-design heaven. The only problem I have with it is I want to spend way too much time there. :) To see the last graphic I made with Canva, you can click HERE--it's the big pink one. (Links to the photo on my blog. Hope that's okay.)

  29. Ah Pam, You are so creative and artistic. I am always so impressed with you and Tina and your techy know how. sigh.

    Thanks for sharing the info so it will be easier for us.

    I have a newsletter program o my computer and even wrote one up one time. You've inspired me to try it again.

  30. Pam, I love that story about moving the walls! Haha! Sounds like she was a "mover and shaker" in her day. ;)

    I'm logging into PicMonkey now (as soon as my flashplayer updates) trying too figure out this collage thing. Does it have an automatic thing that will put your text on your photo with the light color behind it? I love that effect.

  31. I'm so sad. This is so beautiful and I am such a failure.

    WTG Hillman :(

  32. Does it have an automatic thing that will put your text on your photo with the light color behind it?

    Natalie, can you be more specific? Is this something I used in one of the pictures on today's blog post?

  33. Newsletters and going to the post office. The only times I wish I could hire some help.


  34. Pam, this is AWESOME, and definitely a keeper post for me since I've been wanting to do my own newsletters instead of foisting them off on my poor hubby!

    Thanks for the step-by-step approach -- your newsletters are stunning!


  35. Okay, I am an UTTER FAILURE at going to the Post Office, or to town at ALL.

    I owe books to people. For months. You know who you are.

    I have been known to growl "DRINK WATER" to my family to avoid going shopping. Eventually, I am forced to go. Mostly the dogs guilt me into going because we're out of dog food. Otherwise, I suspect my humans would starve!

    I've even gone so far as to bribe my adult kids into doing the shopping and the PO runs for me. :)

  36. Awesome, awesome, awesome, Pam! You make it look so easy!

    I use MailChimp, too. Yes, my templates look canned and I've wished for a way to personalize them. I can't wait to try this!!

  37. Oh, NATALIE! You are BRILLIANT!!! I didn't use the collage feature to design my templates, but I could have!

    I'll have to remember to use that next time! :)

    And I think I know what you ask about the "light color" behind the words....

    Select the Overlay tool (looks like a butterfly) and select the Geometric overlay. Any of these will do, but I usually use the rectangle or the oval.

    At first it will be a BIG BLACK BOX. lol Change the color to white or whatever color you want, use the ERASE feature to soften the edges, and then fade the overlay to the degree you want and send to back behind your test.

    Does that help?

  38. Ah, but Julie, you have the best of both worlds! :) Keith can do your graphics lickety-split, and then you can upload them to your newsletter software.

    Y'all would be done in a jiffy!

  39. Audra, so glad you got the "canned" reference. Don't they, though?

    Okay, something wonky just happened to my archived newsletter. :( Not fun. Must go see what's wrong with it.

  40. I'm in awe that your graphic brain looked at this and called it easy.

    I'm also in awe of how lovely it is! Well done, Pam!


  41. Yes, Pam, that's exactly what I was meaning!!! Thank you! I'm apparently not so brilliant since I'm having trouble updating my flashplayer. Firewall is being grumpy and all that jazz. LOL. I'll get on PicMonkey as soon as it's cleared up and check out the "butterfly" tool!

  42. If Kav and Missy have spinning heads, then I feel like I'm in good company.


    Hey, the Highway Department (ironically the hero in Wedding Blessings #2!!!) is outside my door trying to fix the bad drainage that floods our road in winter/spring and I made them cookies... Warm from the oven....

    BUT I LOVE YOUSE GUYS TOO, SO I BROUGHT SOME OVER HERE!!!! Chocolate chip toffee brickle cookies.

    Because you are beloved!

  43. Whew, for a minute, only part of my December newsletter was showing up when I clicked on the archives.

    Wouldn't really be an issue most of the time, except since I'm using it as an example today, I kinda-sorta NEED it to show up today of all days!! lol

  44. Ruthy, we all have our talents. I am in awe of all you do with baking and kiddos and raising thousands of dollars for the homeless.

    We're all different and that's what makes the world special! :)

    Hey, but I do have an open can of sweetened condensed milk in the fridge and just saw a recipe that said I could mix chocolate chips with the milk, melt both and make fudge. Now, I DO think I'm talented enough to do that! Must try it asap! :)

  45. Chocolate chip toffee brickle cookies.


    These sound amazing!

    This is my payback for not going shopping. I don't even know if I have enough chocolate chips to make fudge... :(

  46. Pam, very impressed with your gorgeous newsletter and with your savvy!! Not sure I could do this, but who knows? We still see miracles.


  47. That is WAY COOL, Pam!!!! I'm definitely going to have to try these ideas when I do my next newsletter!

    I've only recently discovered the fun of online programs like PicMonkey and Canva. I like that you can specify what you're going to use the graphic for--a meme, a banner, a blog graphic, etc.--and it gives you options for size and shape, etc.

  48. Janet, 'tis the season of miracles! :)

    Myra, I agree. When I first started using PicMonkey, I didn't notice the size options. Kinda nice to have the Facebook banner size already there for you, isn't it?

  49. Bookmarked for future reference! Thanks so much Pam! I've gotten MailChimp newsletters from other bloggers and authors before, but I've never looked into it myself (I think my blog's still too small for that right now) ... I just took a glance at MailChimp's site and wow, I feel like it's like Google Analytics --I don't think I'd be able to use it to it's fullest potential. So many features! =)

  50. It can get complicated. I looked at some of MailChimps examples from clients, and it looks like a lot of professionals might use the jpg block of photos/text for newsletters. Maybe? I don't know, but interesting! :)

  51. Thanks, Pam! I enjoy reading other people's newsletters. Yours are impressive!

  52. All of this and you write wonderful stories as're amazing Pam! I think you have a lot more patience than I have. Beautiful newsletter!

  53. I came back determined to study what you've done and learn it and use it.

    I'm depressed again.
    I need Christmas candy.

  54. Pam, this information is FANTASTIC! Thank you! Your newsletter is gorgeous! I'm saving this for when I need to do an author newsletter. :)

    Just reviewed your The Evergreen Bride....loved it!

  55. I'm so slow to change. I'm still using Picasa, even after it was no longer being supported. This was the kick I needed to move onto Pic Monkey. Thanks! Heather

  56. Cara, I do a lot of recycling! :)

    Why, thank you, Jill! I think working with graphics is my form of relaxation, like some people quilt or scrapbook, I like to play with graphics design...for fun and for myself.

    lol, Mary, you are too funny. Yes, Candy sounds like a plan. Which reminds me. Must put candy on my ever-growing shopping list. Don't know when I'll actually force myself to go BUY said candy, but it's on the list.

  57. Sherida!!!!!

    Who cares about newsletters!!!!!

    I have a REVIEW from Sherida!!!


    Thank you! :)

  58. Heather, at least you can play with PicMonkey for free. And if it doesn't meet you're needs, you won't be out anything. :)

  59. Golly, Pam, there's so much information here! Wonderful examples, too. Saving this for later ... although it sounds like so much fun I'm tempted to play with it. After I finish edits. After I finish edits.


    Nancy C

  60. Hi Pam,
    Got here late, but I'm going to save this til I have time to properly digest this info!
    It looks awesome and I love your template!

    Wishing all the Seekers a wonderful, blessed Christmas!


  61. Im really late but love what you have done and how simple it is. I have helped a friend with hers and we did a lot of the writing in word first. I created a banner which we use but this programme makes it look so easy to use.
    (I do have a graphics programme but not as simple).
    I would love to get into making and doing newsletters.

    I use to do the church one and had a template I would use and just change a few things each week which made it so much more simple to do.

  62. Yes, Nancy, finish edits first, then you can play! :)

    Susan, glad you enjoyed it!

    Jenny, I think you'll enjoy this. It does make creating a newsletter a bit easier.

    Merry Christmas to all and to all a Good Night!

  63. Thanks for your informative post, Pam. I'm going to have to get brave and try creating a newsletter soon. When I do, you can be sure I'll have your post handy.

  64. I don't even want to think about newsletters. I'm not there yet.